The New England Patriots scored only 13 points during their win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the contest — from the involvement of rookie receivers N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, to running back Sony Michel having one of his best games of the season, to starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returning to the lineup and immediately making an impact.
How did this impact look like? On the stat sheet, as follows: Wynn was on the field for all 70 of New England’s offensive snaps in his first game back from short-term injured reserve, and surrendered six quarterback pressures in 39 snaps as a pass-blocking. He gave up a strip-sack as well as three hits and two additional hurries. The numbers may not stand out, but in combination with some strong run blocking — the Patriots gained 75 rushing yards on 15 carries to the left (5.0 per run) — they make for a solid comeback.
Let’s take a look at the film to get a clearer impression of Wynn’s first game since suffering a toe injury in Week 2.
Q1: 1-10-NE 35 (13:06) S.Michel left tackle to NE 41 for 6 yards (B.Jones).
The Patriots started the game against Dallas by running on four straight plays, three of which to the left side of the formation. Wynn looked good on all of them, with his second rep standing out in particular because it illustrates just how technically sound of a player he is — and how his strength and ability to stay balanced throughout contact allow him to win at the point of attack in both zone and man blocking schemes.
The play itself started with Tom Brady (#12) under center and Sony Michel (#26) lined up behind him. The run is designed to go to the left side of the formation, and Wynn does a nice job in his one-on-one matchup against nine-technique defensive edge Robert Quinn (#58):
Quinn aggressively attempted to get through the B-gap between Wynn and left guard Joe Thuney (#62), but the tackle reacted quickly by getting his hands on the defender and pushing him out of the way — allowing Michel to gain six yards following the hand-off. Wynn’s hand usage and footwork on the play made this possible: he remained square and did not open up either side until Quinn made his move. At that point, Wynn had won.
Q1: 2-8-NE 49 (11:29) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass incomplete short right to J.Meyers [R.Quinn].
While Wynn got the better of Robert Quinn on the play above, the veteran defender proved to be a competitive matchup — especially in pass protection. Wynn acknowledged after the game that he needed some time to get used to his primary opponent that day, and in the first half this allowed Quinn to get the better of him on a fairly consistent basis. This play from later during the Patriots’ opening drive is a good example of that:
Quinn aligned in a wide-nine-technique, which allowed him to build up considerable speed while trying to get into the backfield. Wynn had not had to deal with this speed rush up to that point considering that the Patriots had yet to call a pass before this 2nd and 8 play, and it showed: he tried to engage the defender high, but Quinn used a swim-move to get his left arm off him and around the corner towards Brady.
While the tackle recovered quickly, it was too late and his attempted push also proved to be inefficient: Quinn was able to get to the quarterback, who at that point had already released the football on an incomplete attempt intended for Jakobi Meyers (#16), and registered the first of three hits given up by Wynn on the day. The edge rusher’s speed and Wynn’s inability to adjust to it made this play possible, and later also allowed Quinn to register a strip sack.
Playing his first snaps since mid-September, Wynn took some time to get used to the Cowboys’ sack leader. After a somewhat rough first half as a pass blocker, however, he bounced back nicely from the third quarter on: after giving up a sack and three hits in the first 30 minutes of the game, the second-year man was able to hold Quinn without either over the final 30.
Q3: 3-3-NE 35 (5:03) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass incomplete deep left to J.Meyers (J.Heath).
One of Wynn’s most impressive reps of the night came on an incomplete third down pass, that was perfectly executed but ultimately unsuccessful because of a drop by rookie wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. The play worked in large parts due to the blocking up front, with the entire unit executing well and showing some encouraging chemistry in the process — especially Wynn and Thuney, who had to defend a stunt run by the Cowboys’ pass rushers:
Wynn originally was matched up with Quinn, while Thuney started the rep on the other side of defensive tackle Maliek Collins (#96). At the snap, however, Quinn quickly moved to the inside to attack the A-gap between Thuney and center Ted Karras (#75). However, both offensive linemen reacted well: Wynn picked up Collins as soon as Thuney started sliding back towards the middle of the formation to stop Quinn from getting into the backfield.
The two linemen, who had played only 123 NFL snaps alongside each other at that point, performed a difficult blocking assignment extremely well. While stopping the stunt is the expected and desired outcome, this has been an issue for the offensive line when Marshall Newhouse was still in the lineup in place of an injured Wynn over the last eight weeks. Needless to say that the whole line took a step forward with the Georgia product back in the fold.
Q4: 2-14-DAL 18 (10:25) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass incomplete deep left to N.Harry [D.Lawrence].
As noted above, Wynn had a hard time in the first half adapting to Quinn’s speed rush around the edge: the two-time Pro Bowler displayed some strong counter-moves and elite bend to get the better of New England’s left tackle on numerous occasions. Wynn bounced back nicely, though, and this second down play from the fourth quarter is a good example of him playing the outside rush better against the nine-technique alignment:
Wynn again approached the down not overly aggressively, in order to prevent Quinn from exploiting a potential opening to the tackle’s inside shoulder. This time, however, he placed his initial punch better which did not allow the pass rusher to disengage as quickly and easily: while he tried to chop away Wynn’s left arm, the blocker was able to hold on and most importantly stay between himself and Brady at all times.
In turn, Wynn was able to mirror his assignment better around the corner and ultimately to push Quinn away from the quarterback at the top of the rush arc. While the result of the play was another incomplete pass due to a drop by a rookie wide receiver — this time it was N’Keal Harry (#15) on a difficult but makable catch — the improvements compared to the first edge rush play we looked are obvious albeit subtle in execution.
Q4: 2-5-DAL 20 (1:40) E.Roberts reported in as eligible. S.Michel left end to DAL 8 for 12 yards (J.Thomas; X.Woods).
After a fourth-down stop and with under two minutes to go in a four-point game, the Patriots decided to take to the ground to put themselves in a favorable position to run out the clock. After gaining five yards on their first run, Sony Michel was able to burst through the line on second down to give his team a new set of downs to operate with — a play that would not have been possible without the left side of the line again executing very well.
Wynn’s role on the play was a pivotal one, as he executed a difficult block to help open a hole for Michel to get through:
Running out of an i-formation with linebacker Elandon Roberts (#52) serving as the fullback, the Patriots used an outside zone run to essentially seal the game. While Roberts was responsible for blocking force defender Jeff Heath (#38) to seal off the edge, Wynn and tight end Benjamin Watson (#84) started the play by taking on Quinn on a double-team. However, the left tackle had to disengage quickly in order to take on second-level linebacker Sean Lee (#50).
With Thuney responsible for back-side linebacker Jaylon Smith (#54), Wynn had to be quick to get off from Quinn in order to stop Lee from potentially blowing up the run after minimal — if any — gain. The 23-year-old did just that, timed his disengagement perfectly, and was able to clip the linebacker just enough to take him out of the play to help Michel get through the hole for what would eventually turn into a 12-yard gain.
The play itself was well executed across the board, and it illustrates the little things Wynn does that make him an intriguing addition to an offense that has struggled somewhat without him in the lineup. While there were some inconsistencies in pass protection, the second half of the game and the run blocking as a whole were exceptional at times and an encouraging development for New England with the playoff fast approaching.